Open source and Schools

After reading Peter’s post on this subject I thought I’d weigh in with some thoughts.

In a previous life I worked at a school as a webby-techie sort. This was back in the days before fast internet and the school had serious problems with the speed of the internet with all the children surfing for the same things at the same time. In addition the ISP filtering (and this article isn’t going to discuss whether filtering is good or bad) was fairly rudimentary.

Being a fairly adventurous sort I snagged an old machine and installed Squid (a GPL licenced caching web proxy with filtering support) on it. The school then changed the proxy settings of all PCs to go through the new proxy and we gained a slightly faster system for frequently visited sites, and had the means to block other sites totally.

Once the system had proved how valuable it was, the school decided it needed something better than a random old PC to handle the web cache. Rather than buy a more fit for purpose machine for me to repeat my installation, they promptly paid through the nose for a black-box solution from RM. After basic investigation it turned out that this black-box solution was running nothing other than Squid. The school however had more confidence in a commercially obtained solution than some free thing downloaded and installed in-house.

It is this sort of “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM equipment” mentality that seriously hampers the take-up of free and open source software (FOSS) within schools. To some extent this isn’t surprising. The people making the decisions aren’t usually technical experts, and want to make a decision that they think won’t backfire on them.

What we need are trustworthy organisations to advise and guide schools away from closed proprietary systems and towards open source, and to do so consistently rather than give mixed messages. Maybe a focused single perspective on this issue that saved money could have helped BECTA from being closed down. Maybe not.

If you’re FOSS savvy and know how to install and support this sort of thing but you aren’t prepared to get a job in a school doing this (or volunteer many hours of your time) then it is easy (but not necessarily helpful) to look on the problem from the outside and say something must be done.

The real problem is how do we get the relevant expertise into our schools in a sustainable way? For this I really think the government needs to lead, and in a time of financial cuts across the board, I believe real savings can be made by guiding a lot of the public sector over to FOSS.

Featured image Open Science – some rights reserved by gemmerich

Handheld Learning 2008

Pecha Kucha


dr math rocks
resolving bad maths record. high sms costs, low bandwidth costs. Mxit – South African company, 7 million users, software is free. So can Mxit be used possitively in education? ‘Dr Maths’ homework hotline using Mxit. help with maths homework up to grade 12. 14:00 – 20:00 sundays-thursdays. over 2000 kids use it. 20 students from Uni of Pretoria are the tutors (anonymous), some physics and chemistry help too. mostly english, some africaans support too. approx 2000 students using the service. no advertising, growth via word of mouth.

mlearn2009 presentation:
themes: mobile, global, integrated. venue: uni of central florida

pocket pc program of highvale secondary college
800 students. mixed.
pocket pc program to help staff development – staff doing collaborative development to teach different modules each year.
HP pocket pcs. vodcasts. mlessons (thinking skills curriculums).

myths and legends of mobile learning
provide guides and access to computers so that students can convert the powerpoint slides to videos for their own hardware – rather than teachers doing the conversion for the students. that way each student with a different device can make the best material for their device.

don’t follow boring people

meraka institute – mobilEd
sustainable learning and teaching that are meaningfully enhanced with mobile learning technology

useful webapps running in mobile safari.

learnosity – large scale assessment of language (

Spiral Journey of Discovery, game,

Hidden Ideas (ltd), helping learning – an online platform – teachers set own fees, user groups,, – engaging tutors

Beyond Current Horizons (dan sutch futurelab) what happens 2025

Site blurb: Everybody with an interest in 21st Century learning and teaching practice is invited.

It’s a game.

The rules are simple. Anybody can present but you’re allowed 20 images that you show for 20 seconds each giving you a total of 6 minutes and 40 seconds before the next presenter is up. You can’t spend 6:40 on one image/slide or 2:20 or any other denomination you can only spend 20 seconds on each image/slide. It’s all part of the fun and keeps presentations concise. If the facilitator decides then the presentation may be open for discussion with the audience otherwise it’s straight on to the next presenter.
Each presentation is pre-loaded onto a laptop (Powerpoint or Keynote) and then is ready to go. The facilitator will make a brief introduction of the presenter and then the talk begins. Each presentation must be pre-configured to advance every 20 seconds, so it’s up to the speaker to keep pace with their slides.
More information about the origins of Pecha Kucha here